Guest Author - Deborah Markus
The good people at King Arthur Flour sent me a box of their Jacques Torres Chocolate Mudslide Cookie Mix. I give this full disclosure because I'm going to be raving about the result of this gift, and it seems only fair to admit that it was just that -- a gift.
I had some critical things to say in another column about the Barefoot Contessa's brownie mix. The brownies themselves were wonderful, but I thought that the consumer was expected to know too much about baking in order to be able to follow the directions, which were bordering on precious. If the purchaser already knew how to bake, I reasoned, why would he or she be buying a mix?
This King Arthur mix gives satisfactory answers to that question. First off, the Mudslide Cookies are chocolate-chocolate chip with fragments of walnuts. That would be quite an undertaking from scratch, especially since the "chocolate chips" are in fact wonderful wide, flat disks quite different from the chips a home baker is likely to find on the grocer's shelf.
So the answer to "why buy?" is off to a good start. The purchaser must have on hand two eggs and a couple of tablespoons of butter, plus a little butter to grease a cookie sheet. Perfectly reasonable. I've known grocery store cake mixes that require more than that -- and don't offer such a gourmet treat in return.
As trivial as it may sound, the packaging -- inside and out -- of this product pleased me. The box itself is colored in appetizing earth tones, with a sprinkling on one side of images of roasted cacao beans.
More importantly to the consumer, the inside packaging is helpful and precise. There are two packages of chocolate disks: one to be melted, one to be stirred whole into the batter. Not only are the bags of slightly different weights, they are labeled "bag A" and "bag B;" and one is opaque while the other is clear. No mistake is possible. This is the kind of touch that a jittery novice appreciates. The only real problem with the chocolate disks in question is the tremendous temptation to forget all about the baking and just eat them.
What really won my heart, however, was the early direction to melt the chocolate in bag A with the butter either in the microwave or "over low heat." That's it. No fussing around with double boilers or bowls of hot water. As I've raved before, water is the natural enemy of melting chocolate. If you have a reasonably heavy pot, there is no reason at all not to simply melt your chocolate in it, especially if you have a stove with gas burners. And the people at King Arthur Flour know it.
The directions are at once homey and precise. After beating together the melted chocolate, butter, cookie mix, and eggs, the consumer is told that "the batter should be shiny." And so it is -- right when it should be and not a moment before. You'll know when the cookies are done baking, because they will look "shiny and firm around the edges, with cracks that appear almost unbaked inside." Again, just so.
And, unlike what is so often the case with recipes or mixes, you'll end up with exactly as many cookies as the directions promise. The batter is scooped out by quarter-cupfuls, and that gives you ten cookies. Ten big cookies. I'm a dessert lover, and one of these was just enough for me at any given sitting.
Any downside to the Mudslide cookies? There might be if you don't care for walnuts. I say "might" because my own son detests nuts and adored the Mudslides even after they'd cooled enough for the walnut taste to be more distinct. I don't usually care for walnuts myself, and initially had thought it might have been nice if the walnuts had been bagged separately, so the consumer would have the option of leaving them out; but the cookies really do need them, both for the texture and as a wonderful foil for the double blast of bittersweet chocolate.
The mix is not cheap. But it contains almost everything you need to make a really outstanding dessert, and, as a mix should, it offers you the guarantee of a perfect finished product -- and a warm and lusciously-scented kitchen to boot.